The good, the bad and the telling

Over at RaysIndex.com we run a feature after every game in which we take a few minutes to celebrate “the good”, dwell on “the bad” and reflect on what we learned (“the telling”). It is a mechanism to add closure to what has happened and segue into the next game. But now that the Rays have succumbed to the Phillies in the World Series, there is no next game. But let’s see if can look at what happened and deduce why the Rays were unable to break through and maybe add a bit of closure on this heart-breaking series.

The good

The World Series was gravy: It is difficult on the day after losing the World Series to look at the big picture. In no way do we want to take an appearance in the World Series for granted and we do understand how difficult it will be to get back. But if we are going to look for a positive spin, it is that the Rays were ahead of schedule in 2008. ]

Prior to the season several models projected the Rays to win 82 games (range: 77-87). This is a team that was built to win in 2009 and 2010. Very few of even the most diehard fans even dreamed of a trip to the World Series. And here we sit with the Rays as champions of the American League and the team can only get better next season. Eric Hinske is the only free agent and the rotation will add David Price. The Red Sox and Yankees will be better in 2009, but so will the Rays.

Rocco Baldelli: Baldelli only had seven plate appearances in the World Series and was only on base two times, but considering where he was at the beginning of the season, the home run in Game 5 to tie the game was the most satisfying at bat of the series for us.

David Price: King David now has 10 major league appearances. Half were in the pennant race, and the other half in the playoffs. He recorded the final four outs against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS and the final seven outs of the Rays only win in the World Series. Price will enter the rotation in 2009. He will not face anything in the regular season next year that will compare to what he has already experienced.

The bad

The big ALCS letdown: It would have been nice if the Rays showed up for the World Series, but unfortunately we were subjected to the Devil Rays. This was a team we had not seen since 2007 and the only explanation is a letdown after beating the Red Sox. The ALCS was such a circus from beginning to end, going a full seven games. There was never the same level of intensity in the World Series. I don’t know if the Rays just expected to walk over the Phillies or if the ALCS just left them exhausted. Either way, this was not the same team we watched all season.

This can best be exemplified by Dioner Navarro’s error in game 3. After being down 4-1 late, the Rays battled back to tie the game in the 8th. At that point you gotta find a way to win the game. With a runner on first and no outs, Grant Balfour threw a pitch to the backstop that bounced all the way back to Navarro. Unable to get into proper throwing position, Navarro rushed a throw that went into center field. Navarro cannot let a runner go from first to third with no outs. He would have never tried to make that play in the regular season.

The big bats went cold: Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena started the World Series 0-29 with 15 strikeouts in the first four games.

Scott Kazmir out of the gate: In his two starts, Kazmir threw 48 pitches and gave up four runs in the first inning. After the first inning Kazmir only allowed one run in eight innings. But the 48 pitches in the first inning kept Kazmir from working late in games pitching a total of 10 innings in his two starts.

Phillies lead-off hitters: Phillies hitters leading off an inning were on base 23 times in 43 plate appearances (.535 OBP) and scored 10 of the Phillies’ 24 runs.

Too many external factors: It would have been nice if the Rays got to play in a World Series with decent umpiring. It would have been nice if the Rays would have been able to play game 3 before their bed time. It would have been nice if the Rays could have played nine innings in Game 5, uninterrupted and without a monsoon. We would have liked to see that series. We don’t know if the Rays would have won, but we would have liked their chances.

The telling

It is not just another series: Joe Maddon always wants his players to approach each game in the same manner, whether it is mid-May or the end of October. Unfortunately he managed the World Series the same way. Maddon loves relief pitchers that are able to come into a game, end an inning and go back out the next inning. This was a strength of the bullpen during the regular season when the Rays played most days.

Unfortunately during the World Series, Maddon repeatedly got caught leaving a pitcher in the game too long. The most glaring example is letting JP Howell hit in the seventh inning of game 5 despite having plenty of well-rested arms left in the bullpen, including David Price. Maddon also made some curious decisions in right field. While Gabe Gross was the most-days right fielder in the second half of the season, Maddon started three different players during the World Series. Prior to Baldelli’s home run at the end of game 5, that group was 1-13 with two walks.

The Trop ain’t so bad: Baseball is not meant to be played in monsoons or 40-degree weather or start at 10:00 at night. That never happens at The Trop.

Not the ’07 Rockies: Getting back to the playoffs in 2009 will not be easy in the AL East, but this will still be a good team. This Rays squad led the toughest division in baseball most of the season and finally ran out of steam in the World Series. Most of the team is back next year and some pieces will be added. Unlike the ’07 Rockies, you better get used to the Rays playing meaningful games at the end of September and into October.

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